The manageability of empathic (in)accuracy during couples’ conflict: Relationship-protection or self-protection?
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The current study sought to expand upon research on motivated empathic (in)accuracy by testing assumptions underlying the empathic accuracy model, namely if a perceiver’s level of empathic accuracy is variable and might be associated with different outcomes depending the situation. More specifically, the model assumes that (a) the perception of threat in the thoughts/feelings of an interaction partner can result in a lower level of empathic accuracy, and (b) empathic accuracy can both improve and harm situational well-being on the personal and relationship level. These assumptions were tested in a laboratory-based study in which couples participated in a conflict interaction task and reported on their thought processes during a video-review task. All participants also completed a similar standard-stimulus task. A shift in participants’ motivation to be accurate to a motivation to be inaccurate in response to perceived threat could not be detected. Men’s higher levels of empathic accuracy for non-threatening feelings of their female partner were predictive of an increased feeling of closeness in men. Women’s higher levels of empathic accuracy for non-threatening feelings of the male partner were predictive for a better mood in women. A harmful effect of empathic accuracy for threatening thoughts/feelings on situational well-being was not found.
KeywordsEmpathic accuracy Understanding Couple conflict Motivation Perceived threat
This study was funded by Research Foundation - Flanders, Grant Number: 11Q9516N (first author).
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
All authors declare that he/she has no conflict of interest.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent (written) was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
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